Following athletes who are ‘one of us’

I’ve had some fun debates this week with some colleagues over what makes an Olympic athlete “one of us”? It’s an important question for those us in the news media who are looking for the elusive local connection (ELC) on a national and international story.

The question started with Lindsey Vonn, who was born here and eventually moved to Vail. She listed Vail as her hometown on the U.S. Olympic Committee list of Olympic athletes.

“She’s still one of us because she was born here,” a producer friend said.

Fair enough. What if someone lives in Minnesota but wasn’t born here? Is she “one of us?”

bsu_hockey.jpg The Bemidji Pioneer has a great profile of Zuzana Tomcikova. She lives in Minnesota because she’s attending Bemidji State, where she’s the women’s hockey goalie. She’s from Slovakia originally, and is playing for the Slovakia hockey team, which isn’t expected to medal.

The great “one of us” question, of course, isn’t limited to sports. Music and Hollywood are the primary vehicles. Bob Dylan is one of us. He was born in Hibbing, but left the state when he was 19 and achieved his fame — and fortune — somewhere else, although — MPR senior producer (and Dylan expert) Jim Bickal reports — he still has a house here. Brian Setzer lives in Minnesota, even shouted “it’s great to be home” when he last appeared in concert here in November. But he’s from California. Not “one of us.”

When people move here, they often ask me “how long does it take to feel like a Minnesotan?” Good question. And when that point is reached, are they a “Minnesotan”? Are they “one of us”?

(Photo: Bemidji State University)

  • It’s a fascinating question, as I’ve wondered myself when I will be one of us. Huh?

    Anyway, as a transplant who grew up in Chicago, went to college in Milwaukee, worked in Iowa, it’s hard to have a sense of place. I’ve lived here 7 years (longer than anywhere else) so that’s something. My two kids are clearly Minnesotans, they were born here.

    I’m not sure what the answer to this is. I think the media answer is: If someone is succeeding or potentially succeding and we can somehow link him or her to here — that person is one of us.

  • bsimon

    Jason is correct about the ELC. When it comes to adding ‘local color’ to a non-Minnesota story, no connection is too tenuous.

    As a news consumer I often want to vomit as these tenuous connections are explained; so my comment above is merely a description of the practice, not an endorsement of it.

    For instance, do we only hear about the hikers being held in Iran because one of them is a Minnesotan? Would it not be a relevant story were he from Iowa? or Arkansas? On the other hand, pointing out that Lindsey Vonn’s childhood training took place at Buck Hill is an interesting angle. Who, driving by that molehill, wouldn’t be skeptical that future Olympic alpine skiers are training here?

  • As Colorado native who has lived in Minnesota all my adult life, I must say I love Minnesota and tell people I am from Minnesota. But I will never quite feel Minnesotan.

  • JackU

    I first came to Minnesota to go to college 30 years ago. After graduation I went back east for a while and then returned “for good” in 1986. Do I consider myself a Minnesotan? Yes, but a non-native Minnesotan. I’m an “immigrant”.

    Maybe we need a “naturalization” process. Then people can “officially” feel like Minnesotans. 8^)